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Friday, 15 October 2010

It's very rare to discover an obvious policy conflict in Japanese public life that doesn't stem from the governing administration. Even there, it's rare, like the visits once-PM Junichiro Koizumi made to Yasukuni Shrine. But that case, like others, depend on foreign countries' protests to qualify for inclusion in this category of events that spark public dissent. The anti-whaling movement is like this. Although last month two Japanese Greenpeace activists hit the newsstands in the West when they were handed a fine instead of a prison sentence by a court for stealing (what they termed) "stolen" whale meat sourced from "scientific" whaling vessels.

But on Monday, in Aichi, central Japan, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will start under the banner 'Life in harmony, into the future'.  

There was a conspicuous lack of harmony in Miami yesterday when protesters gathered outside the Japanese embassy to raise the issue of the annual dolphin slaughter in the coastal town of Taiji. The town is not far from Nagoya, where the COP10 meeting will take place. But, then, nothing's far from anything else in Japan. 

'Harmony' is a loaded term in Japan, where it's seen as essential for stable social relations, and is enforced at all levels of society by studiously avoiding signs of difference, and by pointing out those that exist regardless of the cost to the individual. It's essentially a way to prevent things from changing, which is a happenstance the Japanese are temperamentally allergic to. So to use it in this context suggests that such events as the Taiji slaughter will not make it onto the agenda. 

Big international events like COP10 are highly-valued by the Japanese, who deem it an indication of their cultural maturity and global standing to be chosen to host them. Heaven forbid, though, that anything embarrassing should evolve out of discussions in Nagoya, which so far have been ignored by the international media. That seems likely to continue.

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